Friday, 25 January 2013

Our place in the EU

As Peter Black points out, the much-trailed speech to Bloomberg's "On the move" (video here) was that of a PR man. However, the shape of the European Union envisaged by Mr Cameron and his ilk is beginning to be discerned. It is that of little more than a common market. The UK would have tariff-free entry to the continent and our financial institutions would be allowed to trade there without restrictions. Our professionals would presumably be allowed to practise in the rest of the EU, but we would be permitted to set a cap on the numbers of other EU nationals entering the UK. We would cooperate on terrorism, but would not participate in the European Arrest Warrant, instead relying on cumbersome and uncertain extradition arrangements. Above all, we would unwind all the social measures mandated by the EU. The relationship would be purely commercial.

On the other side of the English Channel, the French would be happy to see the UK out of the EU altogether. They have never wanted us in the first place. (I can't resist the thought that the products of the Paris Institute see themselves as the heirs to Napoleon or even Charlemagne and resent any challenge to their potential rule over a new European empire.) The Germans are more agnostic. They would prefer us to stay in the EU as is, but would not go to the stake for us.

What can be predicted is that the other EU members would not allow the UK to compete with them having the unfair advantage of much poorer employment conditions, and health and safety standards. They would no doubt expect a continuing contribution to the EU budget, as Norway and Sweden do.

However, there are many smaller nations who want us to stay and not purely for our budget contribution. They look to the UK, with its tradition of parliamentary democracy, to counteract the authoritarian tendencies of the EU institutions. They also agree with us that reforms are needed to common policies. There are signs, however, that they are repulsed by the anti-Europe rhetoric of Tories (and some on the Labour benches) amplified by our media.

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